1 August 2022, Midi & Skyway, Chamonix Mountaineering Conditions

The combination of a poor winter and spring with low snowfall, and then a very dry and hot start to the summer, is giving some of the worst summer alpine conditions in a very long time.

Whilst the effects have been evident for many years now, the summer of 2022 feels like the season when, for many, the frying pan hits the face and the harsh reality of climate change in the mountains means that the changing of existing plans is the new normal…

The Aiguille du Midi snow ridge high above Chamonix. Snow volume is heavily reduced even on recent years and more and more rocks are in evidence.

The mountains are in a bad state this summer with massive evidence of glacier recession, the lowest snow volumes ever seen in recent times, extensive crevassing and increased rock fall due to both heatwave and recently exposed loose rock.

The Col de Petit Flambeau near Skyway Monte Bianco and the Torino Hut – usually a pleasant glacier stroll – still passable but via 2 small wooden bridges.
Extensive crevassing in the upper Vallée Blanche and very lean poor conditions on the North Face of the Tour Ronde.

Got any good news!?  Well, last year was a really good summer!  Will next year be worse than this year?  Nobody knows.   It’s likely we are heading to a different normal where high summer is the off season for many types of classic alpine routes and a much more flexible approach is required embracing both different seasons for alpine climbing and different styles of climbing for the high summer season.

The Cosmiques Arete – a Chamonix classic – currently not being guided by the local guides bureau due to the hot weather and rock fall risk.
The Super Couloir on the East Face of Mont Blanc du Tacul, just left of centre…with no snow or ice, just dry rock and trickle of water down the back of the gully.

The mountains always require a flexible approach.   Poor conditions and weather are common.  Yes, this year is on a different scale, and it’s not pretty, but there are nearly always good things to do but a willingness to observe local conditions and change plans accordingly is crucial.

You know it’s bad when we are discussing the conditions on the Petit Flambeau! This is a very short and usually straight forward ascent from the Skyway lift, but it’s more complicated at the moment…

The locals approach is banging a round peg in to a round hole and that means embracing different routes, peaks, style of climbing, embracing rock climbing, mountain walking, climbing at lower altitudes; on rock that has spent it’s recent geological life in the sun rather than rock that is currently undergoing major geological changes due to melting permafrost.

Pockets of rock islands emerging from the upper Vallée Blanche glacier.

The changes are happening rapidly and the processes of how hot weather causes melting of the permafrost and subsequent rock fall is not easy to predict, not even for experienced guides as this is a relatively new phenomena.

Teams climbing the ‘new’ first pitches on the South Face of the Aiguille du Midi – due to glacial recession.

Despite the poor conditions in general, in more specific local conditions updates – there was a good re-freeze on the remaining glaciers around the Mont Blanc Massif this morning and we have enjoyed a couple of days light mountaineering, refresher training and acclimatising with Andy.

Andy trekking around to the Col Rochefort with Monte Bianco beyond.

The Col du Geant has plenty of crevasses but also a track which winded it’s way through without any overly big jumps!  We did some good snow training in the windscoops at the base of the East Ridge of the Marbrees and some rocky scrambling on the lower part of that ridge.

Windscoop climbing at Col Rochefort with the Dent du Geant above.

As the photo above shows, the approach to the Dent du Geant is fully dry, loose and is not being guided by the local guiding company in Courmayeur.  One team did head up there but there did appear to be a rescue helicopter hovering extensively over the upper slopes near the Dent for quite a while later in the day.

Late afternoon return to a quiet Torino Hut.

The Torino Hut was pretty quiet but a few other teams had traversed the Aiguilles d’Entreves and there were lots of teams doing crevasse rescue training on the overhanging serac below the hut.   The area of the Marbrees abseil descent looks pretty horrible with lots of loose rock and there was nobody doing it.

Aiguilles Marbrees and Dent du Geant plus Grandes Jorasses in the background.

We used the incredibly scenic panoramic Mont Blanc telecabines to traverse the Vallee Blanche and thus do a 2 day acclimatisation trip without getting involved in the big queues present on both sides of the Mont Blanc tunnel at the moment….plus it’s much better acclimatisation!

Narrow snow ridge and crampon training

The descent of the Midi snow ridge is quite steep and icy for a shortish section in the middle but does currently have good steps.  Sharp crampons and good technique recommended.

Good scrambling and a short section of granite big boot rock climbing on the Arete Laurence.

Whilst the Chamonix guides are not currently doing the Cosmiques Arete, there were a few teams on it today – but it’s much quieter than usual.  We did the Arete Laurence and enjoyed the pleasant easy scrambling and one tricky slab traverse.  No fixed rope in place at the moment!   There is a friendly and pleasant team at the Cosmiques Hut (including 4 goldfish this year!) which is a good pit stop whilst passing through the hut en route back to the Midi.

Nice granite scrambling on the Arete Laurence leading to the Cosmiques Hut.

Other news from the mountain.   Extensive crevassing but teams climbing both Gran Paradiso and Monte Rosa plus the Weissmies South Ridge is often a good bet in inclement conditions.  Teams have also been climbing the Eiger, Zinalrothorn, and Tasch – but the Zermatt guides bureau are still not guiding the Matterhorn for the moment.

More news to follow & good safe climbing, Rob.